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The Time Machine

by Bill Maya profile

Science Fiction

Web Site

(based on 7 ratings)
3 reviews

About the Story

This eponymous game is a sequel to "The Time Machine," H.G. Wells' Victorian science fiction novella. Can you solve the mystery of your friend’s delusions or will you be confined to the asylum with him?

Game Details


6th place - ParserComp 2021

Entrant, New Game Plus - Spring Thing 2024

Editorial Reviews

IF Comprehensive

H. G. Wells’ “Time Machine” is a classic work of early science fiction, and Bill Maya’s “Time Machine” is a short interactive-fiction work based off it. Rather than following the original story directly, though, the protagonist attempts to recreate the journey, here taken by Wells himself, to prove the author’s sanity.
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Number of Reviews: 3
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Time after time, May 16, 2024
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: ParserComp 2021, Spring Thing 2024

(Note: this is a review of the Spring Thing 2024 version of The Time Machine, followed by my original review of its ParserComp 2021 incarnation).

(I beta tested this game).

Unlike the other New Game Plus entries, this updated version of The Time Machine sticks to the same system as its original ParserComp 2021 release, and retains the same plot – you’re a friend of H.G. Wells who’s attempting to prove him sane by showing that he really did travel through time and isn’t suffering from a delusion. But where that was mostly a standard Inform affair, version 2.0 has gotten quite the coat of paint: the status bar tells you where (and when) you are while providing a small map of exits; subwindows offer character portraits, an inventory list, and a character interaction area telling you which NPCs are present and suggesting some topics of conversation (there are also graphics for each location; while I’m not sure of their provenance, they’ve unfortunately got a bit of an AI vibe to them, and regardless it would be nice to note where they came from in the ABOUT text). It’s about as slick a presentation as a parser game can offer, down to the scroll-bars that make it easy to navigate long menus or go back to earlier sections of your playthrough.

Looking back at my review of the original game 1, I spent a lot of time harping on niggles of implementation – missing synonyms, unwinnable states, endemic typos, objects that you couldn’t pick up again after you’d dropped them – but I found the updated version smoothed out all of these issues and more besides. It also addresses my other major complaint, which was a faint whiff of anticlimax: the author’s added a final act involving an escape from the Morlock’s tunnels, which creates some excitement before the end and ensures all the iconic elements of Wells’ novel are brought on-screen.

This is still a comparatively small game, though – there are only three or so puzzles, and neither the characters, the plot, nor the themes are especially deep. Ordinarily I’d say there’s nothing wrong with that – better to get in and out while you have something to say – and The Time Machine, in its current form, feels neither over-short nor padded. Still, I do find the 2.0 release’s robust package of interface features and implementation improvements risks coming across as overengineered compared to what, in context, may seem a relatively slight story; three years is a long time to add polish, after all. But that’s not really a critique, and if anything, the issue may just be that my standards for parser game presentation are too low. There are always lots of forum conversations about how to make these kinds of games more appealing to new players, and while that task certainly has gameplay and narrative elements too, in addition to its own solid merits it’s worth checking out the Time Machine if only to see just how modern an Inform game can feel.

-------Review of 2021 version--------

The Time Machine by Bill Maya is an Inform follow-up to The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, a confusing state of affairs that highlights the challenges of writing an unplanned sequel. If the initial work was conceived of as part of a series, that’s an easy enough situation – presumably there are enough hanging plot threads and unresolved conflicts lying about to let you to whip up a plausible plot. But where a story’s been resolved, the protagonist’s journey completed, where is there to go? Sure, a Hamlet sequel would have to be a spin-off, given that everyone north of Horatio in the dramatis personae snuffs it before the final curtain, but even murder-light fare runs into this problem: count ourselves lucky we’ve been spared such enormities as 2 Secret 2 Garden, or Catch 23 (actually, there is a sequel to Catch 22. It’s not great!)

The author’s solution to the dilemma is elegantly done in the present case: there’s a switch of protagonists, from the time machine’s inventor to his friend and lawyer (like, the friend is a lawyer), and the task at hand is to prove Wells’s rantings about Eloi, Morlocks, &c. shouldn’t get him hauled off to a late-Victorian sanitarium by retracing his travels through time. It’s a good setup, allowing the player to re-experience the highlights of the novel without forcing you to go through the remembered steps of a familiar story.

Sadly, the game still requires the player to adhere to a script, though this isn’t always communicated well. My first full playthrough ended in an unwinnable state because immediately upon activating the time machine and finding myself in the Edenic surroundings Wells had related before being hauled off in an ambulance, my first instinct was to return to safety and tell the censorious alienist he’d gotten it all wrong. But when I got back to 1890 and related my wild story, the doctor only listened, “with an accepting look on his face.” That was admirably open-minded of him after he’d stuffed Wells into a strait-jacket for telling much the same story, but that was as far as things went – and since the fuse on the machine burned out after that trip, there was no opportunity to return and bring back more definitive proof. In fairness, the game does signpost that he’s looking for a particular piece of physical evidence – a flower to match the unique petal Wells had shown him right before the game opened – but it would have been polite to fire off a losing ending to bring the story to a close, rather than leaving it to peter out.

Being on rails wouldn’t be so bad if the story the game was out to tell was a gripping one, but despite solid prose, the plot is sadly rather pedestrian. First, most of the game’s playtime is spent in the present day, trying to get into Wells’ workshop and get the machine up and running by solving a few desultory puzzles. Once in the far future, you can explore a single two-location building and have a brief interaction with some Eloi, but it’s all functional at best, and only recapitulates more exciting incidents from the book. If you want to explore off the beaten path and solve a mildly-annoying guess the verb puzzle (to get through a rusty grate, (Spoiler - click to show)TAKE GRATE will work but PULL GRATE and BREAK GRATE won’t), you can have a run-in with Morlocks, but it’s likewise abbreviated and completely optional.

The puzzles are fine, though with the exception of the first (figuring out where Wells’s workshop key has gotten to, which requires a bit of deduction) they’re very straightforward – putting a machine part in a machine, showing an interesting object to an interested NPC, that sort of thing. I had more trouble with them than was probably warranted, though, because there are some infelicities in the implementation. Prior to the nobody-cares-about-your-time-travel-story restart, I’d actually already had to restart because I’d put a watch down on a desk – after being prompted to do so by an NPC – but then was told “it’s hardly portable” when I attempted to retrieve it. And when I grew frustrated at my inability to find the workshop key and considered resorting to violence, BREAK WINDOW WITH POKER just elicited an empty command prompt, with no acknowledgment or rejection of the command. And there are a good number of typos throughout (including a missing period in the opening sequence).

I still had a good time with the game, because the writing is solid, the premise enjoyable, and the setting a pleasant place to spend time (well, modulo the tunnels where blind inbred cannibals live, I suppose). But it felt quite dry, and I was left wanting a little more there there – a little more interactivity, a little more story, a little more puzzling, just something more to create emotional engagement and make The Time Machine feel like a real sequel and not just a retread.

Note: this review is based on older version of the game.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A short adaptation of H. G. Wells Time Machine, May 26, 2024
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This review is for the newer version of the game. I'll mostly be focusing on changes between the versions. The original review can be found below.

The biggest thing that struck me on initial play was the addition of AI-generated graphics and helpful windows on the side. But after completing, the biggest thing that struck me was the overall increase in code smoothness and good programming.

AI art has been controversial recently due to its being trained on artist's content against their will. I've seen it in a lot of games recently, and I find it tends not to contribute much as the art is often inconsistent. However, I definitely think it adds something here. Maybe it's because the well-known nature of the story it's based on has produced a lot of art over the years, or maybe because the writing itself is more utility-focused and so is complimented by art.

I did struggle with the side windows; the inventory one shows up just fine, but on both gargoyle and lectrote, I couldn't get the topics window to show up. Thankfully, typing TOPICS works just fine.

I liked the timing aspect in the new ending and the whole 'future' area in general much more this time around. I definitely feel like this is an overall improvement to the game.

Original review:

I beta tested this game.

This game is an adaptation of a static fiction story. This is something very hard to do well in a parser game; I've tried it myself and more or less failed, and so have many others. This game runs into a lot of the same problems: a faithful adaptation assumes a linear plot, while a parser game is centered around freedom of expression.

This game implements a house with many mentioned details but few which are usable. There are bugs, such as when one attempts to break a window (not needed in the game).

Plot wise, it doesn't follow the book directly, but instead starts after the action of the first one, allowing you to prove to the world that the time machine is real. The whole setup makes it seem like it will be very complex, but in reality there are only 2-3 puzzles and the whole game can be completed in very few steps.

Note: this review is based on older version of the game.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Sequel Adaptation, April 12, 2024
by manonamora
Related reviews: springthing

The Time Machine is a short-ish parser that continues the eponymous story, where you play as an unnamed friend trying to find clues as to Wells' psychosis (or proof that is tale is true). You get to explore parts of Wells' house, inspect his machine, and travel to the future with it (where you can explore a bit of the new world).

There are only a couple of puzzles (mainly to get and handle the machine), most of the interaction being conversations with the different characters. A sidebar includes your full inventory, NPCs you can interact with, and conversation options with said characters. There are also hints and a full walkthrough in-game.

The thing is, there isn't much to do after running the machine. I get that your goal is to get proof your friend isn't crazy, but had I been sent to the future, I would probably have tried to explore more or find a way to interact with the world... or just stand right there and freak out. Time may be of the essence for your friend, but you have a machine to rewind time (at only a push of a lever, how practical...).
Or go off the trails and get back in time. The possibilities are ENDLESS!

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This is version 10 of this page, edited by JTN on 1 April 2024 at 5:47pm. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item - Delete This Page